There’s no denying it, the Sunday Roast is the granddaddy of all meals. This delightful spot of daytime dining has been standing alone in the ‘what’s your favourite meal?’ debate for quite some time. But there’s a new kid in town… brunch. And if the Sunday Roast is the granddaddy of meals, brunch is the cooler older cousin who hit puberty years before you, had facial hair and knew how to talk to girls (the last two is still somwhat of a struggle).
Like many things in the London restaurant scene, the early days saw this meal borrow much from across the pond (which as it turns out was largely borrowed from Full English Breakfasts). As good as this was it did get a touch samey – an affliction London seems eternally bound to suffering from. You’d get bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, croissants, sausages, coffee and a bloody mary. Don’t get me wrong, this is a magical ensemble of food – and I’d quite happily kill for this, and have it as my last meal. But it was a bit samey. And then the inevitable, everyone had a go (just look at the burger… baring Pizza East and Asian places, I have seen a burger on every menu I’ve tried in the last couple of years). This new brunch revolution saw eateries from all cuisines, all areas, and all price ranges creating their own version of this meal. ‘Top shelf’ restaurants started using words they’d otherwise spit at – unlimited, bottomless, group bookings, orange juice (gags), baked beans (hides under the table) and even pancakes (proof of god). When once you couldn’t escape burgers, now it seems brunch is omnipresent.
Roka is one of London’s premier Japanese restaurants. You’ll do well to find any best sushi, robata grill or Japanese cuisine lists without a shoutout to Roka. Now with sites in Mayfair, Charlotte Street, Canary Wharf and Aldwych, they have thrown their hat into the brunch ring with their new Han Setto Brunch (exclusively available at their Aldwych site). I had a chance to try it out and having walked through the automatic doors, passed the water feature and approached the stunning destination bar, two things are quite obvious: 1. This is an absolute beauty of a restaurant. 2. Brunch has made it to the big boys’ table.
If you’ve been paying attention to my previous ramblings, you’ll understand that 90% of things I say to bartenders will consist of the words ‘Old Fashioned’. And to my delight I’d arrived at some sort of Japanese shrine to whisky. Japan are trailblazers in the Malt Whisky scene at present and some of the best are on display at Roka. Having had a few samples of the various Japanese Whiskies on offer, I went for a ‘Hibiki 12 Whisky Old Fashioned (image below)’ – the ice used was hand chiselled from a giant block of ice, large enough to sink to the Titanic’s Dad and clear enough to read through – a super start. After a couple more of these my guest arrives and we take our seats.
Now I don’t speak Japanese so I don’t know what ‘Han Setto Brunch’ means but if I had to hazard a guess I would say ‘A hurricane of completely incredible dishes showcasing the very best in Japanese sushi, sashimi and robata grill cuisine, with unlimited (that word…) wine, topped off with a dessert arrangement that could just as easily pass for an art installation.. Brunch’. This really is a super meal and a quite remarkable deal. For £39.00 per person with a bellini on arrival or £55.00 per person with red & white wine throughout your meal; you are treated to no fewer than 10 small starters to share (standouts were the 3 sashimi selection; sake to avocado maki raw salmon, avocado and wasabi tobiko; and gyuniku to goma no gyoza beef, ginger and sesame dumplings), this is followed by a selection from the robata or main kitchen (standouts were the sake teriyaki salmon fillet teriyaki with sansho salt; kobuta no ribs yawaraka nikomiyaki glazed baby back ribs with cashew nuts; gyuhireniku no pirikara yakiniku beef sirloin, chilli and spring onion), and this is all topped off with a ROKA dessert platter. The dishes come at a manageable and steady pace (the friendly staff are happy to adjust the speed of delivery… just ask), and your glass is always full.
The atmosphere at brunches is always a lively one, particularly as the afternoon progresses and people succumb to the idea of daytime drinking. This isn’t lost at Roka, there’s a lively yet family-friendly vibe and though the brunch is lubricated by an endless supply of plonk, this isn’t the theme here – the food is the centrepiece and what a centrepiece it is – every dish is beautifully presented and packed with vibrant colours. This stands as a stark contrast to the slick yet understated and simple décor. Though dining fine, you feel at ease and comfortable, and unashamed to get your elbows on the table… that sort of thing.
There are no shortage of brunch options in London, just have a read through my ‘brunch bible’ to see just how varied they can be, and Roka is definitely up there with the best of them. Roka’s that place that everyone seems to have heard of but only few have been (usually on company dime) here’s your chance to get fully stuck in and from as low as £39 per person, you really aren’t presented with much of a choice.
SNAPS FROM THE NIGHT
MORE ON ROKA ALDWYCH
Venue page and more info here
London's best brunches